2014-07-31 / Sandy Days, Salty Nights

A not-so-classy ending

At a wine tasting recently here in the South of France, I met a Frenchman who was charming and boyish but also something of a rake. He had an air of class about him, the kind that comes with good breeding, and from my seat next to him I could smell his cologne, something expensive and European.

The two of us got to talking while the vineyard owner poured sample after sample of good wine, and the Frenchman, after a certain time, started to make me blush. He leaned close and in a confessional voice asked if I’d ever had a tantric massage.

I sat back on my stool. “A what?"

He sat back, too, suddenly less seductive and more pedantic. “Well, surely you’ve heard of tantra?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Of course I have,” I said with confidence.

“Oh? Then what is it?”

I stumbled. What do I know about tantra? That it’s a bit mystical? That it doesn’t always have to do with sex? That it’s more yoga and meditation than anything else?

As I cataloged my knowledge, it didn’t amount to much. But I certainly couldn’t admit that to this man who so obviously outclassed me, who has read philosophers and studied poets, seen parts of the world I’ll never see, who listens to Bach over breakfast and would never fumble with the silverware at an expensive restaurant.

What could I tell him? That the most definitive thing I know about tantra is that Sting practices it?

So I kept my mouth shut and let him relay his own experience of tantric massage, an hour-long session that cost him 225 euros (250 with tip). He told me everything, down to the woman’s name (Laura), her country of origin (Spain) and what she was wearing, at least in the beginning (a kimono).

He told me all of this with a straightforward earnestness, the way a man will when he is confident of his place in the world and the knowledge that that place is superior to most.

I listened with rapt attention, the way I do with everything I consider above my own humble origins, taking careful mental notes about the way the elite live.

And then my new French friend arrived at the end of his story, the happy ending, shall we say, of his experience, the part where the massage went from muscle work to, well, another kind of job. My expression must have been one of shock, because the Frenchman stopped his story and looked at me with exasperation.

“But are you surprised?” he said. “Surely you have this in the United States.”

We do, of course, but it has a very different connotation. Although posh places must exist, mostly when Americans think of a massage that comes with “a bit extra,” we think of seedy back rooms frequented by truckers.

I have to admit I smiled at the image of this sophisticated Frenchman pulling off the interstate into one of those places we’ve all seen the signs for. Do we have tantricc massage in the U.S.? Sure. Just off I-95. ¦

— Artis Henderson is the author of “Unremarried Widow” published by Simon and Schuster.

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